Why lunch meetings are the key to success – and when to say no

by Ivan Mazour

5111519-lgAbout a year ago I decided to take to heart the advice given in a book called Never Eat Alone. I never actually read the book – I figured the title explained the point well enough. Previously I’d mostly eat lunch at my desk, and head home after the day was done to do some reading or catch up on some e-mails. From the moment I decided to start Ometria, I booked up every single lunch and dinner with someone I knew, or someone that I had been introduced to.

At first, I didn’t have enough introductions to fill up my week, so there would still be plenty of free lunch and dinner slots for me to eat alone. But, as with anything, things slowly started to grow. It was a simple process. I’d have one meal, enthusiastically explain what it was that I wanted to do with Ometria, and inevitably the person sitting across the table would remember someone who might be helpful to me, and later make an introduction. As soon as I’d get the e-mail, I would invite them for lunch or dinner, and the process would continue.

Absolutely all of my current success with Ometria has come out of this. As soon as I met my current co-founder and COO, I invited him for lunch. The same is true for our investors, and for our non-executive directors and advisors. If I have to think about one strategy that I’ve employed that I feel has been vital – it’s this one. Sometimes I think it’s a shame that I didn’t come round to it earlier on. I started doing this at the age of 28, whereas I should have done it ten years prior. Anyone, whatever they are doing, whatever they want to achieve, need to start deliberately choosing who they eat with – right now.

It’s got to a rather extreme point though. I’ve been inviting everyone I get introduced to for a lunch or dinner, I’ve been accepting invitations from anyone who wants to see me, and I’ve simply been finding the next available slot in my diary and scheduling it in. My lunches are now booked up for six weeks, and my dinners for four weeks, and that’s starting to show diminishing returns. I sometimes find myself making a plan, and then by the time the lunch comes around my situation is completely different and there isn’t much to talk about anymore.

The other day I got an introduction to someone who is extremely well known and successful in ecommerce. We briefly exchanged e-mails and he asked his secretary to set up a meeting. I suggested a lunch in November, two months from now, but his secretary responded that he was too busy at the moment and that it would only be possible to do it next year. I thought my situation was extreme – but that’s a four month lead time. This is definitely too much, and not somewhere I want to end up.

So I’ve been thinking about how to adapt the process and make sure that I don’t end up in the same situation. One of my pet hates is people who use their secretary to run their calendar. If I want to see someone, I will take the time to arrange it myself, and have an e-mail exchange in advance. So this is something that I will never do. That basically leaves one option – to start saying no myself. At some point over the past year, I went from having not enough connections, to having not enough time. There is a balance in there, and I need to find it.

The point of this post is two-fold. One is to explain quite how vital the lunch and dinner strategy has been to where I’ve got to so far, and the other is to explain that there is a nuance that one should be aware of right from the start. It’s possible that if I’d actually read the book, this advice would have been in there. But assuming it’s not in the book, here’s how I see it.

As soon as you find yourself having booked up three weeks ahead, every time an opportunity comes along, first consider whether it’s absolutely vital to what your short-term goal is right now, at this moment. If it’s not, then give it a 50% chance. I don’t mean flip a coin, although that might be worth a try (there’s an amazing book called The Diceman about someone who lived his life exactly like this) – I mean in your head keep a balance, and only actually take half of these meetings. Put that strategy in place right from the start, and not only will you have a meal calendar that’s full – you’ll have a meal calendar that’s optimal.


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Nick Holzherr September 7, 2013 - 9:59 am

Interesting post Ivan. Don’t you also want some time in your diary in case something urgent comes up – where you want to meet someone “tomorrow” or “next week”. Having a 3 week (or 3 month, in the extreme case) lead time could slow down important lunches in favour of “fun” ones?

Ivan Mazour September 7, 2013 - 10:07 am

Thanks Nick – absolutely, that’s what I keep breakfasts for! There is a whole unused third of possible meal meeting-time that I never schedule in. I like to eat at home and do some thinking or reading. However if something urgent, or fun, comes up – I’ve always got the ability to say great, let’s meet tomorrow morning for breakfast.

Monty Munford September 7, 2013 - 10:43 am

Excellent post and I also prefer to arrange lunches without a third party such as a PA being involved.

More importantly, you reminded me of The Diceman… must be time to read it again.

Ivan Mazour September 7, 2013 - 10:47 am

A classic. The book is only half autobiographical – so I’ve often wondered about the reality of living life like that. I’m tempted to try the coin-based approach to meetings and see if it works. If people found out they would either be horrified, understand it as a genuine efficiency strategy, or just laugh at the eccentricity. Either way, worth a try..


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